KENYA – The Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) has partnered with Smile Train, the world’s largest cleft organization, to continuously train more professionals in East Africa on the medical condition.

As part of the collaboration, KEMRI and SMILE Train have called for more healthcare professionals to venture into cleft medical research.

The partnership also aims to prompt policy development that will address the gap of lack of sufficient data on cleft prevalence in East Africa.

1 in 700 babies are born with a cleft lip and/or palate globally which results to difficulties in eating, breathing, hearing and speaking.

A cleft occurs when certain body parts and structures do not fuse together during fetal development and many children with clefts will never receive the reconstructive surgery they need.

The causes of cleft are not known but risk factors include environmental factors, the diet of the mother during pregnancy, genetic predisposition or lack of Vitamin B also known as folic acid.

The partnership comes at a critical time when medical research is needed to better understand the condition.

The Smile Train Programme Director for East Africa Jane Ngige stated that more collaboration is required in the region to get the attention of the policymakers to address cleft care and to have local partners lead in innovations for comprehensive cleft care.

If we are to truly achieve Universal Health Coverage, we need to work together to ensure that persons abled differently are also provided with quality treatment,” she said.

 She explained that it is significant to have evidence-based data to better inform cleft care programmes and advocate for inclusion in national health policies.

The KEMRI Acting Director-General Prof Samuel Kariuki urged Smile Train to continue sensitizing the healthcare professionals to tap into their experiences to get the attention of the decision-makers.

He acknowledged the value of the collaboration and encouraged surgeons, nutritionists, social workers, and anesthetists to continuously use research to voice the needs of patients with neglected surgical conditions.

We as KEMRI have broken down the concepts of research, enabling the healthcare professionals to apply them to their day-to-day engagements,” he reaffirmed.

A two-week training programme on Cleft Research Methodology which was facilitated by KEMRI Graduate School of Health Sciences (KGSHS) and Smile Train hosting cleft professionals from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia will further advance the mission.

Smile Train has been collaborating with local medical professionals to enhance a sustainable model of care to provide free, safe and comprehensive cleft care ranging from surgery, nutrition, speech therapy orthodontics as well as ear, nose and throat services.

Smile Train currently partners with more than 245 hospitals and over 255 local medical partners in 40 countries throughout Africa to provide free cleft surgeries and comprehensive cleft care all year round.

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